Community consulted for Disability Strategy

Jodi Schellenberg
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There are a lot of problems people with disabilities face, but a strategy is being developed to help them.

Merv Bender, one of the Saskatchewan Disability Strategy consultation members, talks with those gathered at a forum to discuss the initiative at the Ches Leach Lounge in Prince Albert.

A public consultations forum was held at Ches Leach Lounge on Tuesday to advice on a Saskatchewan Disability Strategy.

“We are crossing the province right now, conducting public forums for the development of a citizen-lead disability strategy for Saskatchewan,” said Bob Wihlidal, assistant deputy minister of Disability Programs for the Ministry of Social Services. “The Ministry of Social Services is helping to co-ordinate this process and the development of this strategy with a total of seven ministries involved across government.”

He explained the strategy is being lead by a citizen consultation team of 15 members, who were handpicked and appointed to their role and are supported by the ministry.

One of the consultation members is Merv Bender of Prince Albert, the executive director of Community Service Centre.

Last year in in late May or early June, Bender said the province was looking for people who had experience working within the disability community to become part of the provincial team.

“I was interested and, of course, by way of the work we do at the Community Service Centre, we have several things that connect to the world of disability for adults,” Bender said. “I thought that I would have a perspective and some experience that would be of benefit to the development of this strategy so I submitted my application and was chosen.”

The first job of the 15 community members was to develop a draft mission and values, as well as meet with other ministries. This was important because although the development of the strategy is housed in the Ministry of Social Services, it connects with many other ministries in different areas of concern.

Now the group is working on getting feedback from members of the community who either experience disability or work with people with disabilities.

“Our objective is to have a summary of findings from these forums in September and the actual strategy with recommendations to government, going from citizens to government in the fall and winter of 2015,” Wihlidal said.

The first objective is to find out where issues and barriers are and discover the kinds of problems they are dealing with, he said.

“We have a decent idea as government what kinds of problems or barriers or navigational problems people with disabilities are having with the programs that are run, but it is important to hear it directly from those people who are affected, the service providers and the people experiencing disability to tell us where some solutions are needed,” Wihlidal said.

“I would like to point out also that this isn’t just a strategy that is going to be pointed at government -- government certainly has a big role to play in the kinds of programs it delivers for people with disabilities but it is a strategy to be pointed at various levels, federal, provincial, municipal, but also at employers and industry and private sector that can play a role in employing more people with disabilities and seeing the value proposition there is from employing people with disabilities.”

They identified seven key areas that need work, including transportation, community inclusion, supported accommodation, accessible housing, support for caregivers, employment and education.

During the forum, the 50 people gathered broke into small groups to discuss these issues.

Although this is the first forum Bender has participated in, he believes it was a great way to get feedback from those on the front line of the issue.

People were engaged in the process, interested in sharing their observations and willing to express and talk about potential issues for the future.

“I was really happy to see the number of people that turned out and the quality of the discussion and the degree to which people are really engaged in this process,” Bender said. “In the specific discussions that I was part of, which was around education and employment, there are certainly gaps in existing services where all needs are not being met.”

One of the main problems people with disabilities face is the barriers that exist between the different government ministries that don’t allow for easy transition from one area to another, he said.

“Those are long standing concerns and those types of systematic barriers can be addressed over time by bringing the focus closer to what are the needs of the individual -- putting the individual and their needs in a person-centred plan, first and foremost and then having the resources follow,” Bender said. “I hope that is one of the things that could come out of this.”

Wihlidal also saw a lot of benefits coming from the public consultation process.

“I think the workbook that we brought to the forums is ringing true and resonating with the people and they are seeing the kinds of issues and barriers that we have identified are more or less the right ones,” Wihlidal said. “There are certainly much more examples out there and more emphasis depending on the community but what we are really seeing is people want to be engaged in discussions about solutions.

“They are bringing forward good ideas and we are quite hopeful we will develop a strategy that is meaningful and effective for Saskatchewan.”

There will be future forums in other communities in the province in the next couple weeks, including Wednesday in La Ronge, Thursday in Melfort, May 27 in North Battleford, May 28 in Meadow Lake and May 29 in Saskatoon.

Anyone unable to attend a forum can contact the Office of Disability Issues at 1-877-915-7468 or by email at

Organizations: Ministry of Social Services, Community Service Centre, Prince Albert Office of Disability Issues

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, La Ronge, Melfort North Battleford Meadow Lake Saskatoon

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